With its project portfolio, the Hertie Foundation stays true to the activities and the will of its founder, but at the same time is beholden to a modern, contemporary implementation of his concerns. For this reason, the Hertie Foundation assumes a model function within its guiding themes. As a reform Foundation, it creates incentives and guides its projects operatively to "market-readiness" with the goal of anchoring them permanently.
Ensuring the social cohesion of Germany and Europe: this is the joint objective of the projects of "strengthening democracy". Democracy is the basis of peace, liberty, and security and thus a basic pillar of our society.
However, democracy is not a static state but a developing process, which is undergoing more changes today than ever before. Democracy is almost considered a given. But developments in Germany, Europe, and the world show how quickly the circumstances can take a less democratic direction, at least according to our understanding. Populism, autocratic heads of state, and the possibilities of the digital public form an explosive mix and sometimes expose the limitations of democracy.
In the field "strengthening democracy", we study the foundations of our cohesion, make it experienceable, ensure its development, and defend it against radical opponents.
Under the guiding theme "studying the brain", the Foundation promotes research and dialog about the brain and the fight against its diseases. The need for brain research can be seen alone in the frequency of brain-related illnesses: 27% of the EU population suffer from an illness of the brain and every third person living in Germany today will suffer from Alzheimer's. Add to that the possibilities of developing new technological solutions, especially in the IT area, and the high appreciation and still growing importance of neuro-scientific results for social discussion and decisions.
The focus of our work lies in supporting clinical brain research (in particular with the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research) and research on multiple sclerosis. In addition, the Foundation supports neuroscience initiatives for innovative research, education, and communication formats. With an endowment averaging € 9 million per year, the Hertie Foundation is one of the largest private sponsors of brain research in Germany and Europe.
In the area of multiple sclerosis, the Foundation is one of the leading funding institutions both in MS research and in the area of self-help for MS patients.
Our work is squarely focused on humanity. We find solutions to help humanity and promote concrete improvements of living conditions.
Our fields of activity unify innovation and sustainable Foundation action. Following our Foundation motto "Initiate. Drive. Act." we seek to design the future, combine concept development and operative action, pursue goals long-term, understand ourselves as a learning organization, and act according to the principle of effectiveness and economy.
In order to maximize the efficiency of our financial resources, the Foundation focuses on model solutions. It makes sure to contribute its own technical expertise and special experience. In order to give project work new impetus, the Foundation generally grants its support for a specific period of time.
The non-profit Hertie Foundation encourages other socially active people to act. It provides people with help to help themselves. It therefore also expects that the grant recipients themselves contribute their fair share. In a time in which the state's actions have to be supported by initiatives of the population, the non-profit Hertie Foundation sees its activities as a contribution to an active civil society.
With its assets of 1 billion Euros, the Hertie Foundation is one of the largest private Foundations in Germany.
- Founded: 1974
- Founder: Hans-Georg Karg and Brigitte Gräfin von Norman
- Assets: approx. 1,2 billion Euros (details in balance sheet 2021)
- Annual endowment: 25 - 30 million Euros
The Hertie Foundation is based on the life's work of the founder Georg Karg, owner of the Hertie Waren- and Kaufhaus GmbH, who died in 1972. He was a man who felt beholden not only to his company and his employees but also to humanity at large and dedicated his wealth to this ideal. His life and work are a role model and benchmark for the work of the Foundation.
In continuation of his plans, the Board of the Hertie Family Foundation decided on December 10, 1974 at the initiative of the children and heirs, Brigitte Gräfin von Norman and Hans-Georg Karg, to found the "Non-profit Hertie Foundation for the Promotion of Science, Pedagogy, Public and Professional Education" located in Frankfurt am Main.
The company name Hertie is derived from Hermann Tietz, a Jewish merchant who lived with his family in Birnbaum, now Międzychód in Poland. His nephew, Oscar, opened his first own business in Gera in 1882 at the age of 23 with his uncle's capital. This "yarn, button, passementerie, white and wool goods store" would become the nucleus of the later department store conglomerate.
In honour of the benefactor, it operated under the name Hermann Tietz. Oscar Tietz's innovative business model with fixed prices, no special orders, immediate cash payment, and direct purchasing from manufacturers led to unbeatably low prices and 15 branches in various cities. Together with his brother Hermann Tietz, Oscar later developed the concept of "people's department stores", offering products for all social classes and opened an impressive department store in Berlin in 1900 with thousands of employees.
In the following years, the Hermann Tietz company grew despite initial challenges and competition from other department stores. After Oscar Tietz's death, his sons Georg and Martin Tietz, along with their brother-in-law Hugo Zwillenberg, continued the business, expanded it by acquiring competitors like A. Jandorf, and significantly increased turnover. Although the Great Depression of 1929 brought the company into financial difficulties due to its business model and high debt, Hermann Tietz survived the crisis and, unlike other department store companies, did not need to be saved by loans.
The decisive worsening of the economic situation and the loss of the company resulted from the anti-Semitic measures of the National Socialists and the department store crisis they caused in 1933. The so-called "Jewish boycotts" caused sales to plummet, wages and suppliers could no longer be paid, and large loans were needed. However, the banks now sought political backing. In the case of Hermann Tietz OHG, the Reich Cabinet was to decide. The political goal was to transfer all Jewish businesses into non-Jewish hands - to "Aryanise" them.
The Tietz family was eventually forced to give up their company for the loans and had to accept significant losses. The banks took over the conglomerate and founded Hertie Kaufhaus-Beteiligungs GmbH. They appointed Georg Karg as managing director, who had previously been the chief buyer for textile purchasing at Tietz. However, the banks had neither a great interest in Hertie nor a restructuring plan. In 1936, Georg Karg offered to take over Hertie from the banks. Gradually, they sold him shares, and by 1940 he was the sole owner.
The events of National Socialism, the "Aryanisation", the takeover of the company by Georg Karg, and the restitution after the war are detailed in the scientific study commissioned in 2020 and completed in 2023.
Foundation HQ in Frankfurt
The headquarters of the Hertie Foundation lie at Grüneburgweg 105 in Frankfurt's Westend. Frankfurt am Main – a city which is defined by foundations, endowments, and supporters like virtually no other city in Germany. Civil commitment has a long tradition here going back many centuries. The Hertie Foundation actively professes its allegiance to these values and the region. Many important pilot projects have started here and were expanded based on the experiences gathered here. In addition, the Foundation has promoted and continues to promote projects of great significance and magnitude in Frankfurt. These include, for instance, the reconstruction of the old city library (Literaturhaus) and the Städel Museum.
Berlin is the political, cultural, and creative center of Germany. And Berlin is an important location for the Hertie Foundation. The Berlin office is the interface between the Foundation HQ in Frankfurt and the projects in Berlin. It observes and comments on the political and social developments in Germany's largest city for Frankfurt's council. In past years, the employees of the Berlin office have developed a strong network of participants of the Foundation in Germany's capital. The office brings the projects and topics of the Foundation to Berlin's public in numerous events.